How To Make A Cornwall Tin Mine

N gauge mine carts

Small but perfectly formed, two mine carts that will service the Tin mine.

I’m now getting to one of the two main focal points and most demanding model making elements of Landreath, my Cornwall mine themed model railway. Here’s what I’ve learnt so far.

A centre-piece attraction of my N gauge railway is a Tin mine (the other being the engine shed and loading yard) with all the activity, features and human stories that went on around it. Men, woman and children can be seen carrying out their backbreaking physical labour, pulling heavy carts carrying the ore and vital supplies around the mine and to the railway track and handling the timber, coal and machinery that made the mine work.

These workers come and go between the buildings, of which the imposing mine ruins that can be seen across Cornwall today are pale shadows. At their peak in the 19th Century, the now solitary mine engine houses and chimney’s would have been surrounded by other buildings and machinery.

These other buildings include, notably, a stamping machine which crushed the raw ore before it was shipping to a smelting works. The stamping machines were fearsome beasts – essentially huge devices that repeatedly dropped heavy weights onto the ore to smash it into smaller bits.

For the walls of these ancillary buildings I plan on using plaster as this gives a more permanent look and also fits the main mine building. And to this end I’ve constructed a small mould into which the wet plaster can be poured. The stone work and detailing is etched in with the tip of some medium grade electrical wiring and scalple as the plaster firms up.  Once dry, a grey wash is applied and detailing adding with dry brushing of various colours.

tin stamps at Geevor Tin Mine

A cornish Tin mine stamps at Geevor Tin Mine

While constructing beam engines, wheals and roofs for the main engine house is done with the help of existing models – the wheels adapted from Faller’s coal mine head assembly (Faller 222190) for example – the stamping machine (used to crush the ore) is a different matter.

I’ve not found any models that look even close and so it will need constructing from scratch.

Coal, barrels, timber and mine carts

Alongside the buildings and heavy machinery there are also all the smaller pieces of equipment, facilities and supplies that made the mine work. Coal sacks, timber, rubble, barrels, crates, tools and the carts to move them can be seen around the mine.

N scale coal sacks, barrels and tools are thankfully fairly common with a number of accessory manufacturers supplying them. These all need painting but once finished and then set amongst the vegetation and soil on the layout they add an incredible realism.

For timber I’m using stirring sticks found in coffee shops. Cut to size and painted these look wonderfully authentic, even having a wood grain that comes up nicely when stained. Admittedly you’d need to use a magnifying glass to see the grain but it’s there if closely examined.

When it came to the mine carts however I was stumped.

Looking at reference pictures (see the ModelRailwayEngineer Pinterest cornwall mines picture board), Cornish mine trolley’s are approximately half the height of an adult male. Given an N gauge figure is approx.1cm tall, the mine carts would be just half a centimetre (1.5mm) in height! Making these – and quite a few are needed – from scratch isn’t my idea of a fun way to spend an afternoon.

Luckily, P & D Marsh Models the rescue with a range of N scale mining carts! Pictured above, they’re made of metal and are unpainted but were otherwise just perfect.

Sadly, these don’t come with rails so I need to make these.

Tripple Whammy

The construction of rails less than a half a millimetre in height and width also had me scratching my head for a while. Until, that is, I had a brainwave of using craft wire.

DIY Craft Wire

This thin – 1mm – craft wire has the triple whammy win of being soft enough to be flattened into a tall, narrow, rail outline; being flexible enough to bend easily to follow a route around the mine and landscape, and of having a metallic finish so it looks like rails without needing painting.

The ability to bend the wire to the track is perhaps most important. My cart track will make its way around the mine buildings, down a slight incline and then follow an oval path so it runs parallel to the main rail track from where ore, coal and supplies can be loaded/unloaded from railway wagons. The ability to easily bend the track to follow this course saved a lot effort!

The cart track also meets up with a horse drawn tramway as this was the original means of onwards ore transport. In the late 1800s (approx. 1874) the tramways in the area gave way to Cornwall Minerals Railway, which itself was later subsumed into GWR. So, on the Landreath layout, which is set in the late 1800s, the cart track adjoins the tramway but is no longer in use.

N Scale Figures

Despite a lot of searching I haven’t yet found N scale figures in 19th Century garb. I’ve now resigned myself to using people from the modern era and painting them so so they have more appropriate 1800s clothes to wear. For the mine workers, this will mean dispensing with the bright orange and yellow safety jackets favoured today and painting them in dull greys and browns. The woman and children will be equally fitted out and painted. New Noch figures arrive daily and I’m slowly getting up to the the numbers I need.

Painting N scale figures is proving fun if tiring on the eyes. The standard brushes used for train weathering and scenery painting aren’t fine enough so improvisation is called for. Each figure is first dipped in a universal skin-coloured wash to cover up the existing paint and a hand made brush of  eyebrow hairs glues to a flat head screwdriver is used to apply the paint for clothing.

This is still an experimental technique and once I’m happy with the results I’ll write a post going into more depth about painting N scale figures.

With the mine section now well underway, I’m now starting to think about the other main viewing attraction – the industry area to the left hand side of the layout, as shown in this model railway track plan for Landreath. This will feature loading areas, engine sheds, refuelling points and hopefully a smelting works for the Tin.

More next time.

> A final, personal, note: I spend a huge amount of time testing, photographing, writing and researching techniques for these articles and pay for all the running costs of MRE out of my own pocket. If you found this article useful you can support me by making a donation on my fund-raising page. Thanks and happy modelling, Andy.

Picture, tin stamp by Smalljim

Founder of ModelRailwayEngineer, Andy Leaning

Andy is a lifelong modeler, writer, and founder of He has been building model railways, dioramas, and miniatures for over 20 years. His passion for model making and railways began when he was a child, building his first layout at the age of seven.
Andy’s particular passion is making scenery and structures in 4mm scale, which he sells commercially. He is particularly interested in modelling the railways of South West England during the late Victorian/early Edwardian era, although he also enjoys making sci-fi and fantasy figures and dioramas. His website has won several awards, and he is a member of MERG (Model Railway Electronics Group) and the 009 Society.
When not making models, Andy lives in Surrey with his wife and teenage son. Other interests include history, science fiction, photography, and programming. Read more about Andy.

Afflliate disclosure:The links on this page may take you to carefully selected businesses, such as Hornby, Amazon, eBay and Scale Model Scenery, where you can purchase the product under affiliate programmes. This means I receive a small commission on any orders placed although the price you pay does not change. You can read my full affiliate policy here. I also sell my my own ready to use, pre-made and painted buildings and terrain features. browse the range.

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